“I Don’t Speak the Language!” (and 3 other ways we talk ourselves out of a new adventure)

February 12, 2020
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When I’m not DJing on Cincinnati’s Mix 94.9, you can find me traveling the world and sharing my journeys here.

Overcome the fear of the unknown and get out there!

A common phrase I’ve heard while talking to friends and family about travel: “I’d love to visit (insert city here) but I just haven’t because (insert reason here.)”

Let’s debunk some travel myths and give you the tools and knowledge to travel like a pro!

I was a little confused about where we are going at this bus station in Lithuania.
  1. “I’m afraid to go there because I don’t speak the language.”

We were in a van heading between Riga, Latvia and Tallinn, Estonia when we stopped in a little village for lunch.  The friendly waitress didn’t speak much English and I spoke even less Estonian.  However, with the help of a guide and some pointing at the menu, I ended up enjoying one of the tastiest dishes on our trip!

The boiled trout with dill and egg was a treat!


Not speaking the local language is a totally valid concern. But let’s look at some numbers.  There are 7.53 billion people in the world.  Over 2 billion of them speak English.  So if you know English, you can talk to roughly 1 in 4 people running around Earth right now.

Love is the universal language. A very warm welcome on our Honeymoon stop in Cambodia.

In addition, most places you’re going that cater to tourists, especially for a first-time visit, are going to speak English.  Even in countries where the official language is not something you’re familiar with, many employees and citizens in these areas know English as a second (or third, fourth, or fifth) language.

Left – KFC is available around the globe (and appreciates a good meme.)   Right – Spa services at our hotel

Technology is also on your side to overcome any obstacles or language barriers. Google Translate is totally free and has been incredibly useful in my travels.  Make sure to download the free app and the language libraries you’d like to translate ahead of your trip to save on data fees.  Type in short, easy to understand sentences and the app will tell you how to pronounce what you need to say or you can turn your phone sideways for a large version of the text in the translated language.  There’s even a feature that allows you to take a photo and translate the text within.

Didn’t know all the ingredients, but this sandwich was pretty good!

Still worried you’ll get into a situation where you can’t interact with someone in an important situation?  Never underestimate the value of a smile and hand gestures. It’s helped me find the restroom more than once!

The trains in Spain and across Europe are efficient, affordable, and REALLY fast!

2. “I don’t know how I’ll get around once I’m there.”

This is also a completely reasonable concern.  And once again, technology comes to your rescue.  Gone are the days when you have to unfurl a giant map in the town center (and telling the world, “HEY EVERYONE! I’M NOT FROM HERE!”)

Sometimes a boat is the best method of transportation. Phi Phi Islands, Thailand

We rarely rent a vehicle on our trips.  Instead, opting for a mix of public transportation, walking, private buses, ferries, and ride-share’s like Lyft or Uber or taxis.

Uhhh… which one’s mine?

Here’s how we navigate new, unfamiliar places:


Know Before You Go

  • How will you get from the airport to your hotel or the city center? Public transport is often your best bet – it’s usually cheaper, and in some cases, faster than a taxi or Uber. Some cities even offer dedicated bus lanes, trains, or airport-to-city-center connections.  Google “(AIRPORT NAME) to city center” to find articles that will offer the cheapest way to get around.  We’ve saved upwards of $50+ on one trip by taking a clean, comfortable bus instead of a taxi.
OK, sometimes we take a car, especially when the rental car agent offers you this for only $30 extra!

Waze and Google Maps

  • The same free apps that tell you how bad the traffic is on I-75 are incredibly valuable wherever you travel. I recommend downloading both Waze and Google Maps. To save on data, download the app ahead of time and save maps for the cities you plan on visiting.  Whether in the US or abroad, I use them to get everywhere, whether walking, on a subway, or a bus.  It will offer turn by turn directions and also tell you which subway stops to get off at – especially helpful when announcements are not being made in English.  Google Maps also offers the ability to see if the restaurant you’re about to walk into is going to be a hit (look for 4+ star ratings, ideally 4.3 or higher).
I’m pretty sure I know where we are. But I’m ok if we wander for awhile. (Rocky Mountains, Colorado.)

Get Lost

  • There’s value in preparation and planning. But avoid the temptation to plan out every second of your trip. Wandering around a new city can be an exciting part of any trip.  Asking locals at coffee shops, attractions, etc. what they recommend is how we’ve discovered some of the best places to eat and cool off-the-beaten path places to check out. 
While wandering around Cusco, Peru we discovered a cafe with private terraces for a relaxing lunch.
  1. “Is it safe there? I saw something on the news.”

I love my mom.  She’s the best mom in the whole wide world.  She’s also in the running for the “Most Overprotective of her Baby Boy” award.  So she’s gets a little nervous when we head to unfamiliar places.  I reassure her (and in some ways, myself) in a few ways:

Locks line a bridge in Prague
  • Check the State Department’s Travel Advisory page for the latest updates on safety issues around the world. They also offer an interactive map showing color-coded advisories around the world.
  • Check out the Country Information Page for the destination you’ll be visiting. It offers information on rules, regulations, areas to avoid, visas, road conditions, local laws and customs, and more.
  • You might need a few shots if you’re heading to an exotic or tropical location. The CDC operates an excellent resource for travelers with vaccination recommendations for each country. We have also used a medical clinic specifically for travelers as well.  These type of places have nurses and information specific to your trip and can knockout multiple vaccines, often in just one or two visits.
The Songkran festival celebration in Thailand is insanely fun and involves water gun fights and random people putting a white powder paste on your face and wishing you well.
  • Don’t be stupid. If there are protests or demonstrations, even peaceful ones – keep your distance and do not get involved, even if it’s a cause that you’re passionate about, especially when abroad. Evaluate travel plans and stay up to date on travel advisories in countries that are experiencing outbreaks of diseases like coronavirus or Zika virus (yeah, it’s still a thing.)  Don’t flash cash or leave your purse unzipped in crowded areas.
  • Trust your gut. If something doesn’t seem right, take action.  If someone is following you down a road, pop into a shop, restaurant, or other populated space.  Tip: If you have enabled a mobile data plan while abroad, turn on your Location Services and share your location for the duration of your trip with a friend or family member.
Vrango, Sweden is like a painting.

Bottom line: Have fun, but don’t be dumb.

(Fun fact: To put things in perspective, some countries like New Zealand advise their citizens that when travelling to the United States they should “exercise increased caution.”)

Eating quick to-go meals can be a great way to save on food costs.

“I can’t afford to go there.”

Yes, you can spend $1,800 on a round-trip flight to Europe. I know people who have. But for that same amount, I’ve taken three round-trip flights to Europe!  Here are a few ways to save a ton of cash on your next trip so you can check that dream destination off your bucket list:

  • Let the deals be your guide. Google Flights has saved my family thousands of dollars.  Read that again.  THOUSANDS.  It’s that good. It will shop almost every major airline and deliver the best price.  When I’m looking for our next trip, I’ll use Google Flights to select a starting point of CVG and then leave the destination field blank.  I’ll select “trips over the next 6 months” and limit the price to $700.  And then click the map and see where we can go around the world.  I’ll sometimes do this a few times a week.  Sometimes I find something right away, other times it takes a few weeks – but I always find a deal!
  • Sign-up for email alerts. There are sites like Scott’s Cheap Flights and Airfare Watchdog that will send you alerts about cheap flights domestically and internationally. Make sure to sign up for email deals from Vacation Express and subscribe to Jet with Jay to get notified of new deals and travel tips. I highly recommend signing up for email newsletters from your favorite airlines.  Frontier is especially active in alerting deal seekers about cheap fares.
Gdansk, Poland taught us that Nutella crepes exist (and are amazing!)

I’ll see you in a cafe somewhere in Europe!


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